By Sidhant Koshi
“Stop spending so much time on your phone”. Being in my early 20s, I am pretty sure this is a line that most young adults my age and I have heard our parents telling us. It’s not that we are unaware of the negative effects that mobile phones have on us, but I feel the bigger problem nowadays is the fear of missing out. The fear of not knowing what the latest news is, of seeing what your friends are up to, of knowing what the latest tech or fashion is. We live in an age of information and not checking your phone for a day could be equated to having missed out on a week’s worth of information.
This brings me to The Social Dilemma. The hit phenomenon that was recently released on Netflix. Directed by Jeff Orlowski, known for directing and producing nature documentaries such as Chasing Ice and Chasing Coral, one can see why it has become as popular as it has. The film delves deep into multiple topics such as social media addiction, the manipulation of people’s thoughts and beliefs, the hacking of politics in countries across the globe, and the effects that it has on mental health, especially on children and teenagers.
While exploring all these key subject matters, Orlowski manages to bring in a host of former and current employees of the tech industry such as Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google. Tristan was one of the first few employees of the tech industry who began to wonder about the repercussions of making social media so addictive.
I think personally one of the scenes that stuck out to me was one where Tristan sends a mail to all of his colleagues regarding his concerns, the mail becomes extremely popular around the office and even reaches the higher-ups but then there is no action taken on it. It can depict the sheer indifference that big tech companies have towards their consumers.
A very thought-provoking line that Harris said regarding mental health was, “We evolved to care about whether other people in our tribe think well of us or not cause it matters. But were we evolved to be aware of what 10,000 people think of us?” It’s one thing to hear your parents nagging you about social media but listening to people who have worked on the inside revealing chilling truths about their industry and its products, is enough to scare most people straight.
Besides the source material, other aspects that I found interesting were the film techniques that Orlowski uses. He takes certain tropes from the horror genre to push his point across, as well as certain scenes that try and mimic Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, to compare social media addiction to drug addiction. I also have to commend the cinematography by John Behrens and Jonathan Pope and Davis Coombe’s editing, which kept the film interesting and ensured that it flowed smoothly.
I do have to however talk about my least favourite aspect of the film, that being the interwoven fictional story of a suburban family who is facing the consequences of social media addiction, that took place in between the interviews. While I do understand this was to give it a PSA type of feel and make it more accessible to a lay audience, to me it came across as being too camp. Some of the interviews also felt a little too forced or staged.
Even with some of these flaws, I would definitely recommend readers to go and watch it. It has a lot of interesting and important points to make about the digital age that we live in today. It is also extremely pertinent to us in particular. Our country is currently where we seem to be having a war between fake news and credible news and how certain political parties are able to use it to their advantage.
To quote businessman Roger McNamee, from the film, “One of the problems with Facebook is that, as a tool of persuasion, it may be the greatest thing ever created. Now, imagine what it means in the hands of a dictator or an authoritarian. If you want to control the population of your country, there has never been a tool as effective as Facebook”.
That is a disturbing thought indeed.
Edited by Purvai Parma Sivam and Sarabjot Singh